Perhaps it’s the absence of any oppression of their own country that compels Scottish nationalists to latch onto the oppression of others. On Monday, Michelle Thomson, an SNP MSP, retweeted news of Ukraine’s emergency application for EU membership, adding: ‘Delighted for Ukraine. It’s [sic] just goes to show what political will can achieve. Remember this Scotland!’ The SNP’s current position is for Scotland to secede from the UK then apply for membership of the EU, a process nationalists have previously suggested Brussels would fast-track.
Thomson came in for a barrage of criticism and later deleted the tweet, admitting it was ‘insensitive’. She is taking all the flack but she’s hardly alone in dabbling in such rhetoric. Mike Russell, president of the SNP, blogged on the party’s website that ‘the right of people to choose how they are governed and by whom is an absolute and must be universally applied’, adding that ‘just because something was, doesn’t mean it will always continue to be so, whether that be rule from Moscow, or the result of an eight-year-old referendum’.
At the weekend, Alyn Smith, SNP foreign affairs spokesman, wrote an op-ed about Ukraine containing this curious paragraph:
‘Scotland stands in solidarity with Ukraine because we understand the importance of international law. We support the right to self-determination and for people to decide their own futures. Ukraine deserves its independence and peace from its neighbour. It is not the place for Putin or anyone else to decide what Ukraine wants – that is for the Ukrainian people to decide.’
Smith is among the most thoughtful foreign policy voices in the SNP, a party with a small but stubborn faction that watches RT and is sympathetic to its framing of the West. Deploying language familiar to the Scottish independence debate to try to reach these people is a fool’s errand. Anyone who needs Ukrainian sovereignty to be sold to them by reference to Scottish sovereignty is the worst kind of nationalist: an exceptionalist.
Ukraine’s courageous stand against an invading empire has an appeal to many Scottish nationalists, allowing them to romanticise their wan, managerial cause and to do so from the safety of Edinburgh. Even if Ukrainians have other things on their minds right now, this victimhood appropriation is still tacky and offensive.
Scottish nationalists might see Ukraine as the latest stand-in for an independent Scotland — much of the world seems to exist for this purpose — but that implies Moscow is a stand-in for Westminster. This is risible, ahistorical porridge. Scotland and the UK are not separate states but a single state and one that exists in large part because Scotland helped create it through the Treaty of Union. Scotland is not under invasion or military occupation and nor was part of its territory annexed by a foreign power eight years ago. Far from being denied self-determination, Scotland enjoys it twice-over through two parliaments and while Crimea was being annexed in 2014, Caledonia was preparing to vote on independence in a referendum the British state fell over itself to facilitate. If you’re baffled by their snarling, seething animus towards a Union that furnishes annual subsidies and a powerhouse parliament, you need to understand the psychology of the Scottish nationalist: they’ll never forgive the UK for not oppressing them.
There’s another very good reason for nationalists to avoid the Ukraine frame: they don’t come out of it well. For if we are to accept the absurdity that Ukraine’s fight for survival can be translated to British constitutional politics, we might note that Ukraine is a unitary state confronted by separatists who unilaterally declared independence after holding unsanctioned referendums in defiance of central government. Putin predicated his casus belli on ‘the right of nations to self-determination’ — namely, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic — and said his ‘policy’ was ‘based on freedom, the freedom of choice for everyone to independently determine their own future and the future of their children’. The only people talking about independence amid the shelling of Ukraine are the Kremlin and the SNP.
That is not to suggest moral equivalence between Scottish independence and pro-Russian separatism. It is to suggest that drawing ludicrous, self-serving analogies between a constitutional debate and a military invasion is asinine at the best of times and reprehensible when people are being murdered by the world’s second-largest army. There are millions and perhaps billions of things in this world more important than the dismal hobby of Scottish nationalism and Ukraine is one of them.
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